Many of us are fascinated by ancient architecture. Be it the many forts of India, the Pyramids of Egypt, or many old churches around the world. I think one of the reasons that we are so intrigued about old ancient buildings is that they tell a story.
A story about how things used to be in the olden days. How and what techniques were used to build such buildings? How long did they take to complete, and how were they used?
The artwork found in such buildings isn’t too shabby, well. We always find many beautiful paintings or murals that certainly prove that pictures definitely can tell stories. I think this might be the origin story of the phrase ” Old is Gold. “
Well, we certainly can not argue about this. There are plenty of examples in front of our own eyes, and all we need to do is look and admire. While there are many amazing ancient buildings and monuments that one can talk about, today, we are looking at the oldest surviving church in the world.
However, in this particular article, we are only looking at Christian churches that were used to praying. So let’s not make you wait any longer and dive in.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, The Oldest Church in the World
Today we are going to talk about one of the oldest Cathedrals ever built in the world, Etchmiadzin Cathedral. This historical cathedral was built in 301 AD. Granted, it is not the oldest church ever built; that honor goes to the Dura- Europos, which was in Syria.
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest church in the world which is still being used to this day. This beautiful cathedral is situated in Vagharshpat city of, Armenia. The original church was built in the year 301 AD, but in the year 483 AD, a new building was made.
The new building was completed in stages. Moreover, the core of the new church was made in 483 AD. By the 17th century, the Dome of the church was completed. In the year 1658, a belfry for the church was built.
Finally, in the year 1868, the sacristy of the church was built, and the construction was finished. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is not only important religiously.
The location of the cathedral makes it vital for political importance. This is also a major pilgrimage site and is the most visited place in Armenia. More than 200000 devotees visit the pilgrimage every year. Having such a large number of visitors each year also means that this cathedral is vital for Armenia’s economy.
The majestic cathedral was originally built over a Pagan temple. The construction of the pagan temple was to signify the transformation from Paganism to Christianity. An Armenian nobleman, Vahan Mamikonian, undertook the task of building the core of the church.
This was mainly done due to the damage sustained during the Persian invasion. Although the church never lost its significance, like many old monuments, it did go through a stage of virtual neglect as well.
That all changed in 1441 when the church was restored as Catholicosate. Etchmiazin, to this day, functions as the Catholicosate. The church was sadly plundered by Shah Abbas I of Persia in 1904. Unfortunately, many of the stones and relics were removed from the cathedral and taken to the New Julfa.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Etchmiadzin suffered damage as it was located between Persia and Turkey. Tensions among the neighboring countries resulted in the cathedral being damaged as well.
Since 1627, the cathedral has had a lot of renovations. The dome, pavement, and ceilings were among the areas renovated. However, the renovations were stopped in 1635 due to the Ottoman-Safavid war. Thankfully, the church remained intact during this, and no damage was done. After the war, the renovation work continued.
Just like any important historical monument, the church also has its torrid past. During the early 19th century, the church was attacked twice within a few days by Russian Forces. The first attack was bravely averted.
However, in the second attack, the Armenian forces were caught by surprise, and the Russians defeated them and controlled the church. The main purpose behind this was to gain a tactical edge in the war.
On the 13th of April 1827, the church was formally annexed by Russian forces. However, despite the worst fears, the church actually flourished under Russian rule.
In 1904, Russians issued an edict and confiscated the properties of the cathedral, and their soldiers occupied it. However, due to resistance, the edict was nullified in 1905. By the end of 1938, the church had started to feel like a hollow monument as it had been under repression for many years.
Revival of The Church
During one of the worst times in the history of the world, the church slowly started to gain prominence during the Second World War. The seminars were started again in 1945, and after the vacancy of seven years, Gevorg VI was appointed as Catholic. The number of baptisms held in the cathedral also rose. While in 1949, only 200 baptisms were held, by the end of 1951, that number rose to 1700.
In 1955 and 56, the church was excavated. After the excavations, the church underwent another major renovation in 1959. These renovations were mainly funded by wealthy benefactors.
More renovations were done during the 1700th anniversary of the church in 2000. The final renovations of the church began in 2012. While exact information is not available, it is suspected that these renovations were minor.
In the year 2000, during the 24th session, UNESCO granted entry to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral into the World Heritage Sites. At the same time, the Armenian Government granted graves and cross-stones as historical and cultural monuments.
The Cathedral also has a museum on the premises. There are many historical relics on display. The most notable attraction is the Holy Lance which is a spear. There is also a fragment of Noah’s Ark available in the museum.
Significance of the Cathedral
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral has a lot of similarities with monuments and religious temples of other religions. The Locus is a “sanctified soil.” Upon further research and studies, some interesting findings were seen. The soil is very similar to Temple Mount for Jews and the Golden Temple for Sikhs.
The cathedral is also called by many common names. Some of these names are the Armenian Vatican and Armenian Mecca, among others.
Since the cathedral has a sense of identity with local Armenians, it is said that visiting here will be more of an ethnic experience rather than a religious one. Moreover, this is the oldest church in the world, and if you come here, it will be worth here.
We can observe that by reading a quote written by an Italian diplomat, Luigi Villari. A visit to Etchmiadzin enables us to understand the tenacity of this people and their devotion to their faith better than a whole library of books.”
Well, we now know a brief history of the Cathedral, so now let’s see what the dimensions of this breathtaking cathedral are.
The length of the cathedral is 33 meters ( 108 ft ). That’s bigger than an NFL field, to give you a rough estimate. The width of the cathedral is around 30 meters ( 98 ft ). While we do not have the exact size, the height of the cathedral is estimated to be more than 27 meters ( 89 ft ).
We all feel a sense of pride whenever we visit something historical. Nobody knows why exactly that happens. It may be due to the rush we feel when we get to know about our ancestors and our history. It might just be because of the realization of how much we all have changed and evolved.
Sure, there are always dark spots in history. As they say, nothing is perfect, but knowing how much progress and innovation was done in the past is. Mind you; they did not have the luxury of hopping onto the internet and finding solutions to any problem in minutes.
Even if in your school you used to get bored during your history lectures, Visiting such places is never boring. They teach us a lot, making us think that knowing our history is important.
The oldest surviving church, Etchmiadzin Cathedral, is no different. Granted, it was not the first church ever in the world. The preservation of this monument gives us an idea of how things must be in those days.
If the history of the cathedral is not enough for you to visit, we assure you the art and museum will be.